“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)

more-than-we-can-imagine_

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Serving Two Masters: Does Ephesians 6:5 Contradict Matthew 6:24?

aaron-burden-300808-unsplash

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
— Matthew 6:24 —

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, . . .
— Ephesians 6:5–6 —

Ephesians 6:5–9 calls “slaves” to obey their earthly masters, which at first sounds like it contradicts Jesus words in Matthew 6:24, where our Lord states that men are not to be divided in their allegiance and service—you can either serve God or money.

A careful reader may ask, Does Paul’s instructions contradict Jesus’ words? Or does he help the worker go further in understanding how our primary allegiance to Christ leads to improved service to earthly masters?

I believe it is the latter.  And on that point, Wolfgang Musculus, a sixteenth-century pastor-theologian, answers well: Continue reading

Seven Ways to Glorify Christ in Your Work

pexels-photo-313773In Ephesians 6:5–9 Paul finishes his “household codes” by addressing slaves/bondservants and masters and how they ought to work as unto the Lord. In fact, in five verses Paul makes five explicit references to Christ. Thus, as with marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33) and parenting (Ephesians 6:1–4), he gives hyper-attention to the way Christ motivates Christians in the marketplace.

Acknowledging the cultural differences (and challenges) between masters and slaves in Ephesus and our own modern free-market, post-slavery context in America, there are numerous ways Paul’s words continue speak to marketplace Christians today. In what follows, I’ll list seven ways Paul puts Christ in the cubicle, the shop, the council chamber, and the medical office.

Indeed, by walking through these five verses, we can see how Christ motivates, supervises, evaluates, and coaches his followers. Rather than bifurcating Sunday from the rest of the week, Paul teaches us how Christ should be present with believers as they enter the work week.  Continue reading

Seven Truths about the Doctrine of Vocation

vocation In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24 Paul speaks of our calling before God. In all of his writings, this may be one that most directly deals with the doctrine of vocation. On Sunday, we will consider this subject at length. In preparation, here are seven truths that relate to “vocation” and our calling to live for and before God in all we say and do.

1. Your vocation begins with the Lord’s calling unto salvation.

Made in the image of God, there’s a sense in which everyone has a “vocation.” The world’s bounty is not cultivated by Christians alone. God has blessed the world with the lives and services of many non-Christians.

That being said, only Christians can pursue their work for the glory of God. Only Christians can give thanks to God and pursue their vocations motivated by God’s love. In this way, a true vocation stands in continuity with one’s calling to Christ. The Father effectually calls his children and then assigns them to do good works.

Ephesians 2:10 says that believers are “created in Christ for good works, prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7 defines our assignment in life by God’s effectual calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, 24, Paul tells the Corinthians to abide in their earthly status and serve God, not worrying about changing their position. In truth, this way of thinking (and living) can only be achieved by those who have the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Christian homemaker or construction worker are animated by the same principle—God’s effectual call (re)defines your earthly occupation. Continue reading

God at Work: Learning About the Doctrine of Vocation from Gene Veith (and Martin Luther)

work“Vocation” is a word that comes from the Latin word for “calling” (vocare). In modern vernacular it often is an unimpressive synonym for work, i.e.,  vocational training. However, in Scripture, the word is filled with significance, even dignity. God calls us to himself, out of darkness and death, into the life and love of his beloved Son. Therefore, Christians must understand “vocation” not as a mundane description of work, but rather a dignified “calling” to serve God and the creatures who bear his image. Truly, to ignore or minimize this vocation is to miss a significant facet of the Christian life.

When the Reformers like Martin Luther threw off the shackles of Rome, they restored the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, contesting the clergy-laity divide, they also esteemed the priesthood of all believers and the doctrine of vocation. In fact, in church history any study of vocation must consider his writings, for he wrote so much and so well about this doctrine.

workTaking this into consideration, Gene Veith an evangelical Lutheran has captured much of Luther’s doctrine, make that the biblical doctrine, in his excellent book God at Work: Your Vocation in All of Life. Introducing his topic, he writes, “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people” (14). This, in a sentence, is the doctrine of vocation. Or more exactly, this is the fruit of the gift of vocation.

In what follows I’ve traced the themes of his book and encapsulated a number of his best quotes. I hope it piques your interest in this topic, even as it paints a picture of why vocation is so important for the Christian.  Continue reading

‘Do Not Work For That Which Is Not Bread’: A Biblical Theology of Work

workGod has given us everything we need for life and godliness, the apostle Peter said (2 Pet 1:3). This means Scripture gives us all we need to know about God, salvation, and good works. It doesn’t mean that Scripture tells us how to teach grammar or solve chemical equations, but it does have much to say about work.

In fact, no matter what you do for a living, what stage of life you are in, or what sort of position you have (or aspire to have), God has much to say to you about your work. In recent days, a number of helpful books on the subject have been written (e.g., The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Work by Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Tim Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, and What’s Best Next?: How the Gospel Changes the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman).

If the intersection of faith and work interests you, or if you are a Christian who has not considered how God relates to your vocation, you should make it a priority to read at least one of these. For now though, let’s glean a few truths from Scripture, which can serve as a biblical foundation for thinking about work.

A Biblical Theology of Work

Starting with creation and moving to new creation, let’s consider seven points about work. Continue reading

Does God Require (Increased) Productivity?

[This meditation summarizes a number of principles from Matt Perman’s excellent book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.]

Does God Require (Increased) Productivity?

Made in the image of a Creator, God designed humanity to bear good fruit. In Genesis 1:28, he told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” When he put the man in the Garden, he called him to cultivate and keep Eden so that in time the beauty, order, and presence of God’s garden would cover the earth.

Although sin marred mankind’s ability to produce good fruit, there remains a human desire to create, to organize, and to produce. In contrast to the cynicism of Dilbert, work is not a curse; it was and is part of God’s good creation. The trouble is that God’s curse makes work tedious and subject to futility.

Ecclesiastes is a case in point. In that book Solomon teaches us not to put our hope in work. He says that work is a “striving after the wind,” because all laborers will eventually relinquish the produce of their hands. Therefore, the wise man fears the Lord and puts their ultimate hope in God (Eccl 12:13–14).

(Some of) What Scripture Says about Productivity

Still, is that all Scripture says about work? Is it all negative? No, there’s more. Continue reading

Noonday Light: Christians and Poverty

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
– Colossians 3:2 –

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

Last week,   asked the question: Are Churches Are Making America Poor?  She reported in Newsweek that a group of atheists in Washington D. C. want to crack down on churches with ‘crooked’ books.  Troubling as this report may be, it is worth considering how churches might relate to the poor. Here a few articles on the matter.

What the Poor Need Most. Joe Carter gives a personal testimony to the riches of his poverty and Christians’ responsibility to care for the poor. (Acton Blog)

The Poverty of the Nations. Greg Forster reviews Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus’s new book economics and policy-making that brings about human flourishing. (The Gospel Coalition)

Economics 101: Productivity Starts at Home. Here’s a more constructive piece by Greg Forster. (The Gospel Coalition)

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Bulls, Birds, and Bugs: Financial Aid from the Forest and the Field

When not going to school, reading, studying, preaching, or blogging, I am helping students with financial aid at Southern Seminary.  This is my full time work, Supervisor of Student Resources, and today I had the pleasure of addressing more than 100 prospective students and their families about financing seminary.  Sharing financial aid nuts and bolts, I tried to frame the presentation with four biblical truths about financial aid.  Considering the current economic uncertainty in the world, I sought to encourage those called to ministry to lift their eyes to heavens from which their help comes from (Ps. 127:1).  You can call it, “Financial aid during a time of financial uncertainty,” or “Bulls, Birds, and Bugs: Financial Aid from the Forest and the Field.”  Let me share them with you briefly.

First, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  Psalm 50:10-11 reads, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.”  The underlining truth that grounds our confidence as Christians, is that God is sovereign.  In terms of financial provision, we can trust that all the earth is his and the fullness thereof (cf. Ps. 24:1).  At any time, our Sovereign God can appropriate, reallocate, or liquidate his “stock.”  Regardless of how the Nasdaq or the Dow fare, God’s economy is always good, and he will care for his own.  So as you consider your financial need at this time, be reminded that God owns it all and will provide exactly what you need when you need it.

Second, the birds of the air doing just fine. In Matthew 6:24-26, Jesus confronts anxiety caused by the question of means, when he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?” 

God’s word teaches us that God cares about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees, and if he does, Jesus says, we need not worry about our provision.  He cares significantly more about those who bear his image, than the bird who fly today and fall tomorrow.  Jesus goes on, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).  For those who are called to ministry, it is imperative that we learn to trust God for his provision.  God affords us this learning tank as we prepare for seminary.  Therefore, in a time of financial uncertainty, God gives us the opportunity to learn contentment (cf. Phil. 4:11-13, 19) and to trust him for provision as we train theologically. 

Since we know the end of the story, a new heavens and a new earth with fields aplenty, we can gladly walk through the unsettled middle. 

Third, God’s timing is perfect, so don’t be a horse or a mule.  In Psalm 32:8-9, God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you wit my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” 

In the Christian life and in ministry, it is essential to learn that while God is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, he does so in ways and in days that we may not expect–or want (cf. Isa. 55:8-9).  I did not anticipate that my seminary career would take four and a half years to complete, but in God’s timing he made perfect provision for me over the course of 9 semesters. For those going into ministry, this waiting on the Lord, is as important to the pastor, missionary, or church planter as learning Greek or Hebrew.  God’s timing is perfect, but we must learn to trust his timing.  Be comforted by Psalm 32:8-9 and remember Isaiah 64:6, “God works on behalf of those who wait for him.”   Guard yourself from being a horse who moves too quickly or a mule who moves too slowly by trusting in the Lord’s timing.  God’s good designs for your life may include seminary and a bounty of undeserved provision, but they may include another path of provision and blessing.

Fourth, consider the ant and plan wisely.  Solomon writes in Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler; she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”  Waiting for the Lord and trusting in his provision does not mean passive inactivity.  I often encounter zealous young men and women called to ministry, who have spent little time thinking about how they might afford the education.  They go out to sea without a paddle, a sail, a radio, or a life raft, assuming that the currents of the waves will lead them in the right direction.  They call this walking by faith, but in fact it is a kind of foolishness that that disregards God’s call to walk wisely, exercising dependent dominion. 

Walking by faith is based on hearing God’s promises and acting in belief (cf. Rom. 10:17; James 2).  Blindly presupposing that God will bless an untimely decision to go to seminary that imperils family, that jeopardizes current ministry, or that hinders the ability to suitably provide for your family–I am speaking to men here–is not the same thing as “risk-taking” faith.  The latter is steeled by God’s promises revealed in Scripture, the former is assumed based on an uncounseled decision (Prov. 11:25).  The sovereignty of God promotes human responsibility; it does not facilitate sloth or idle living.  God’s cosmic reign encourages honest work, coupled with ant-like planning.  Along the way God often smiles on us, providing gracious and unexpected supplies and resources, but this never frees us from the responsibility to plan and to plan well (cf. Prov. 16:1-9).

In short, all creation reflects the glory and wisdom of God that help us to better walk in wisdom (cf. Ps. 19:1; Isa. 28:23ff) .  In the five animals considered here, we see principles of wisdom that spur us on as laborers and aspiring shepherds, for we ourselves must learn to live like sheep even as we train to shepherd.  God is our Great Shepherd and the One who will provide all that we need, and for those who are called to ministry they are also called to wisely pursue biblical equipping, according to the provision and the timing God supplies.  This kind of equipping may come from a seminary, or it may not, but regardless we are called to labor faithfully in the vineyard in the God places us until the master returns to receive his own.

(If you would like more information about Southern Seminary, come to a Seminary Preview Conference.  The next one is scheduled for April 2009.  More information about financing seminary can be found at Goingtoseminary.com. ).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss